In school-based occupational therapy, we often find ourselves navigating a complex landscape of tools and interventions, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. One tool that has captured the attention of educators and therapists alike is GoNoodle.
I first found out about GoNoodle back in 2015 while observing a student, and I will admit, I thought it was absolutely fantastic. However, as GoNoddle has become more popular and grown into a pseudo-replacement for PE in elementary schools that do not hire PE teachers, the everyday use of GoNoodle has become slightly concerning for me. Maybe you have felt the same way.
At first glance, GoNoodle appears to be a game-changer for advocates of movement in the classroom.
It offers a treasure trove of interactive videos and activities designed to provide students with short breaks and engaging movement experiences. The colorful characters and catchy tunes make it a hit among kids, and teachers appreciate the opportunity it provides for students to release pent-up energy. It seems like the perfect solution, a win-win for both students and educators.
However, as you dig a bit deeper, especially when addressing the unique challenges of students with motor planning difficulties, the relationship with GoNoodle becomes more complex. While it undeniably has its merits, it's crucial to recognize its limitations, especially when it comes to being used in classrooms where students have difficulties with motor planning.
In this article, we'll explore why you might not want to recommend GoNoodle to some teachers and why individualized therapy is still the key to helping students develop motor plans for everyday activities.
Understanding Motor Planning Difficulties
Motor planning difficulties and dyspraxia can significantly impact a student's ability to plan and execute coordinated movements. Per Mailloux et al., 2023, A. Jean Ayres “theorized that praxis requires sensory perception, integrated with cognitive and motor functions.” As such, challenges related to motor planning are highly individualized, and they play a fundamental role in a student's overall development and independence. Whether it's buttoning a shirt, effectively using a pencil, or even learning the newest dance craze, motor planning is at the core of these actions.
Dyspraxia from a Sensory Integration Perspective
From a sensory integration point of view, it's essential to understand the senses that have a direct link to dyspraxia in order to understand better how it impacts students. Here are the key sensory integration-related factors linked to dyspraxia:
Sensory Modulation: Some students with dyspraxia may struggle with sensory modulation, leading to heightened or diminished sensitivity to sensory input. This can affect their ability to plan and execute motor actions accurately.
Body Awareness: Dyspraxic students might have challenges with proprioception, the sense that helps us understand where our bodies are in space. This can make it difficult for them to plan and coordinate movements effectively.
Vestibular Dysfunction: Problems with the vestibular system, which controls balance and spatial orientation, can also contribute to dyspraxia. Students may experience difficulties in activities that involve balance and coordination.
Tactile Perception: Sensory sensitivities and limited feedback from tactile receptors may impact motor planning. Some students may avoid, seek out, or incorrectly interpret certain tactile sensations, affecting their willingness or ability to engage in activities that require fine motor skills - especially when their vision is occluded.
Because a child with dyspraxia can be impacted by any combination of these difficulties (and others), our evaluation of a child’s needs revolving around dyspraxia is so important. A well-addressed evaluation allows us to provide tailored interventions that address sensory processing difficulties alongside motor planning challenges.
The Appeal of GoNoodle
Let's start by acknowledging the appeal of GoNoodle.com. It offers a variety of engaging activities and videos that provide students with a much-needed break from their daily routines. Many students benefit from the movement, fun, and sensory engagement that GoNoodle provides. And the truth is, for 90% of the student population, GoNoodle is great!
Challenges for Students with Motor Planning Difficulties
However, when it comes to students with motor planning difficulties, GoNoodle falls short and may even cause more problems than solutions for teachers and students.
Many of the activities and movements used in GoNoodle videos can be very challenging for students with motor planning difficulties, leading to frustration and anxiety rather than an optimal learning level of arousal.
The fast-paced nature of GoNoodle activities can limit students from making progress and may even deter them from wanting to engage in future physical activities. That is why it is crucial to recognize that what works for one student (or even 30 students) may not work for another, especially when motor planning is a significant hurdle.
The Need for OT
So, what's the solution for students with motor planning difficulties?
Individualized therapy and collaboration with the teacher are the missing pieces of the puzzle.
These students do not need teachers, peers, and staff encouraging them to “Keep trying” or to Keep up. Instead, they need tailored interventions designed to address their specific motor planning challenges,
Individualized therapy sessions can focus on breaking down motor tasks into manageable steps, providing ample practice and repetition, and gradually increasing complexity as students progress. These sessions help students develop motor plans for everyday activities, fostering their independence and confidence.
In a similar manner, collaboration with teachers and other staff can help to identify easy-to-implement accommodations and potentially alternative methods for helping the student achieve individualized academic and functional expectations.
Where to start?
Here's what you can do to help educate teachers about the limitations of GoNoodle and explore alternative strategies for your students on campus:
Communicate with teachers about the specific motor planning challenges that some students may face. (This makes for a great in-service!)
Provide information about the sensory integration aspects of motor planning difficulties, helping teachers understand the root causes and sensory sensitivities involved.
Alternative Strategies within the Classroom:
Encourage teachers to have children lead exercises slowly: This approach allows each student to set a pace that suits their motor planning abilities, reducing anxiety and frustration.
Promote peer support: Teachers can encourage students to support one another in the classroom. Pairing a student who excels in motor skills with a peer who struggles can create a supportive environment where students learn from each other.
Acknowledge differences and provide alternative movements: Emphasize the importance of acknowledging that not all students can perform the same movements. Teachers can offer alternative movements or exercises that accommodate students with motor planning difficulties.
Use mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Incorporating mindfulness activities can help reduce anxiety and improve focus, benefiting students with motor planning challenges.
Foster collaboration between OT practitioners and teachers to brainstorm and implement classroom strategies that address motor planning difficulties.
Encourage open communication, where teachers can share observations and concerns, and OTs can provide insights and suggestions based on their expertise.
By working closely with teachers and providing them with insights into the challenges some students face, you can help create a more inclusive classroom environment for all students - even the ones not on your caseload. The classroom may even enjoy exploring alternative strategies that allow every student to participate in the classroom movement breaks.
In conclusion, my relationship with GoNoodle is one of love and frustration.
While it has its merits as a sensory support tool, it may not effectively address the motor planning difficulties that some students face. This is especially true in classrooms where there may be several students with motor planning difficulties.
So, the next time you are considering recommending GoNoodle to a teacher, or you see a classroom full of kids struggling to keep up with the beat, take a step back and ask yourself if there is a better way to support the needs of those students.
GoNoodle is an easy solution, and in many cases, it is the best solution. But in our world of supporting students with various needs, there may be better solutions available.
Thanks for having a read,